Thursday, December 18, 2008

Reflecting on being Acadian

Acrylic on gessoed hardboard, 12 x 12''Created Dec. 6-14, 2008, #153

Continuing my author/book series, this one is especially sweet. One of my favorite non-fiction books with the bonus of having one of my favorite artist on the cover.

I read Notes from Exile on being Acadian by Clive Doucet during the summer of 2002, in the wake of painting a piece entitled ''Fort Beauséjour'' that would become part of the permanent collection of Le musée acadien du Québec à Bonventure, Qc. (the Acadian Museum of Quebec) where I was fortunate enough to have a solo exhibition during that fall.

Notes from Exile recalls the journey of the author who was acting as a journalist for CBC radio during ''Les Retrouvailles'', the first World Acadian Congress and reunion that was held in south-eastern region of New Brunswick in 1994. It is an incisive, charming, touching and sometime witty account while he wrestles with the question of his own identity of being a Canadian with an Acadian father and a British mother. It left me with an enlightened sense of pride of my own personal identity and hertiage of being an Acadian. Notes from Exile is listed in the top 100 titles of it's publisher, McClelland and Stewart Inc.

The Acadians were the first French settlers to arrive to the New World back in 1604. The first settlement was established at Saint-Croix Island in the Bay of Fundy, Nova Scotia (N.S.). A year later they would move to the mainland at Port Royal. The Acadians later established themselves in parts of what is now New Brunswick, Prince Edward Island, parts of eastern Quebec and the New England seaboard. British colonists captured Acadia in the course of Queen Anne's War (1702–1713), and its conquest was confirmed in the Treaty of Utrecht (1713). The French residents of Acadia were given one year to declare allegiance to Britain or leave N.S. In the meantime, the French signalled their preparedness for future hostilities by beginning the construction of Fortress Louisbourg on Isle Royale, now Cape Breton Island. The British grew increasingly alarmed by the prospect of disloyalty in wartime of the Acadians now under their rule. In the summer of 1755, the British attacked Fort Beauséjour and burned Acadian homes at the outbreak of the French and Indian War between Britain and France, accusing Acadians of disloyalty (for not having taken the oath) and guerrilla action. Those who still refused to swear loyalty to the British crown then suffered what is referred to as the Great Upheaval (La déportation) when, over the next three years, some 6,000–7,000 Acadians were expelled from N.S. to Europe or the lower British American colonies. Others fled deeper into Nova Scotia or into French-controlled Canada.

After 1764, many exiled Acadians finally settled in Louisiana. The name Acadian was corrupted to Cajun, which was first used as a pejorative term until its later mainstream acceptance. Britain allowed some Acadians to return to Nova Scotia, but these were forced to settle in small groups and were permitted to reside in their former settlements such as Grand-Pré, Port Royal, and Beaubassin.

Other literary offerings on the plight of the Great Upheaval such as Evangeline, A Tale of Acadie, was published in 1847 by the American poet Henry Wadsworth Longfellow. The poem follows an Acadian girl named Evangeline and her search for her lost love Gabriel, set during the aftermath of the deportation. We had the opportunity to visit the house where Lonfellow grew up in Portland Maine, this past October during a weekend getaway. I also did a book report during my senior year in High School of Pélagie-la-Charette (1979), by Antonine Maillet (who happens to be the aunt of one of a longtime family friend). Narrating the epic journey of the widow Pélagie LeBlanc, who in the late 1770s leads her people back to Grand Pré from the American South. The novel was the first foreign work to receive France's Prix Goncourt . The English translation "Pélagie-the-Cart"appeared in 1982.

The image on the cover is a from one of the most documented paintings by Alex Colville. The French Cross was painted in 1988. The National film board of Canada produced a documentary on the artist, The Splendour of Order back in 1984. During one sequence we follow Mr. Colville walking on a train track leading to the cross. Here, he takes precise measurements and does sketches of the monument. He revisits the cross in another documentary produced in 2002 by CBC, The Life & Times of Alex Colville. It also appears in several of his art books and I've had the opportunity to view it twice during retrospectives of his art held at le musée des Beaux-Arts de Montréal (1994) and the National Gallery in Ottawa (2002). The cross was erected in 1924 in Grand-Pré, N.S., only a few kilometers from the artist's residence in Wolfville. It is a memorial monument to the Acadian people who were expropriated from their land. The model is of Chinese descent on her father's side (a professor at Acadia University in Wolfville) and a descendant of the Acadians on her Caucasian mother's side. The unconcerned horse is following the path in front of him. The girl, also moving forward looks back towards the cross and creates a link between the present and the past. Please refer to my posting of August 31 for bio notes on Mr. Colville.

For this composition, I chose to use a Chinese Ball as a prop to a link to the Chinese girl. Also known as Baoding balls, they are used to improve manual dexterity, strenght and for meditation. A particular aspect with these reflective spheres, the closer you bring them to a bright light source, the darker that immediate surface becomes. Using my camera flash not only removed my physically from the image, it created the contrast I needed for the image to work. The ball kind of became a small planet, with a night and a day side. Also forming a type of balance found in a Ying-Yang, a circle of opposing forces. The night side is representative of my studio, where I paint mostly after 10 pm. Pot lights appears as stars around a full moon and there is even a comet-like formation at midnight. The bottom side is day and is a flipped-reverse reflection of the cover. The image also becomes a narrative of what the Acadians went through when there own reality was turned upside down as they were being boarded on to ships, families were broken up, husbands from wives, parents from children, deported and dispersed to the Southern United States, England, back to there origins in France and as far as the Falkland Islands. A linear line of lights starts from the top of the ball and continues downwards on the cover of the book. How appropriate that a shimmering light spot appears at the level of the girl's heart, noting a moment of inner enlightenment and creating a blinding spot for the horse as his face disappears underneath. It is one of the very few paintings that I have done that red is not utilized as a feature colour, it does however hides in the darker shades of brown.

I usually don't go deeply on my blog to try to explain what imagery means to me. In this case I chose to do an exception in a very thorough manner of what I felt when I painted it. A moment of introspection of my own experience on being an Acadian, but more importantly to have the insight to move forward and view the larger picture of how fortunate I am to still be living in Acadia, a land without borders.